What the heck is Kaizen?
Kaizen is a philosophy, with origins in Japan, which is oriented at taking incremental steps towards improving business processes, products, and quality. It can be defined as a continuous effort by all employees of the organization to ensure continuous improvement of all the processes and systems in the organization. It thus also helps in eliminating waste from the organization.
It can also be applied to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, which cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. Kaizen process aims at continuous improvement of processes and quality not only in the manufacturing sector but in other departments as well. In today’s world, Kaizen has been applied in different fields like, healthcare, government, finance, software and several other industries.
How is Kaizen implemented?
Kaizen activities are usually implemented by using the Plan‐Do‐Check‐Act (PDCA) cycle. This ensures that there is always an on‐going cycle in action to monitor changes and continue to improve upon them.
Plan ‐ Define the problem and develop potential solutions. The required objectives and processes are set and information is gathered which is needed to get the expected output.
Do – Implement the plan and execute the set processes. Collect data, if any, to be used in the subsequent phases.
Check – Evaluate results to see if the solution satisfied the expected outcomes. Search for any deviations in implementations from the plan. Convert the data obtained into information.
Act – Based on the information, if things are going well as per the plan, then take measures to stabilize the changes or otherwise, repeat the PDCA cycle if there are still some unresolved issues.
How does Kaizen work?
Kaizen works by reducing waste (muda) and eliminating work processes that are overly difficult (muri). It succeeds when employees at all the levels of the organization hierarchy look for scope for improvements and provide their suggestions and feedback based on their experience and observations. Generally, these suggestions are about small changes that can be made to existing business processes that can give positive results to the business over a long period of time.
For this to work, it is important that it is made clear that any kinds of suggestions from anyone are welcome and there would be no negative impacts on participation. Instead, the employees will be rewarded for participation in the day to day activities.
Kaizen’s five primary elements
Kaizen is founded upon five primary elements:
Quality Circles: A quality circle is a group of people who work on the same or similar project, who meet on a regular basis to identify, analyse and solve work‐related issues, if any.
Improved Morale: It is an important step in achieving long term efficiency and productivity.
Teamwork: Kaizen strives to help employees think that all are part of a team and need to put in collective efforts in order to succeed.
Personal Discipline: A commitment to personal discipline by each employee ensures that the team will remain strong.
Suggestions for Improvement: Gathering feedback from all the employees ensures that all problems are addressed before they become significantly huge.
Kaizen culture in the workplace
Kaizen is a system which requires interaction and participation from all employees, from the front line crew to the upper management and even CEO of the company. Everyone is encouraged to brainstorm and come up with suggestions for improvement on a regular basis. It is a continuous activity, carried out throughout the year.
Employees from all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve continuous, small and incremental improvements to the business processes. In this way, different levels of experiences and skills can be brought together to create very powerful techniques for making improvements in the company’s processes.
Kaizen is a process, which if performed correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates hard work while encouraging smart work, and motivates people to conduct experiments based on their suggestions, learn to identify and reduce wastes in the business processes.
When Kaizen is implemented as an action plan through a series of Kaizen events, it teaches employees to think in different ways about their work. They are pushed to think how their current work can be further improved in order to achieve greater success.
Implementing Kaizen in the workplace
There are three stages in implementation of Kaizen in any organization.
1. Encourage participation – To ensure active participation from all employees, it is necessary that first awareness about Kaizen is created. After the necessary awareness training sessions are provided, conduct and promote Kaizen events and provide rewards to employees on successful implementations of ideas which are the results of these events. In such events, direct involvement of management is also important.
2. Training and Education – A proper training is required for executives to learn the essence of Kaizen. The management level should thoroughly understand Kaizen in an organizational vision context, which needs to be followed vigorously to achieve the desired business results. They must also be taught how to be impartial towards everyone and encourage their employees to actively participate.
3. Quality level improvement – After training is completed, people should remain focussed on making changes towards improvement. They should take measures to start making small and incremental changes towards achieving long term goals, like improving efficiency, processes and quality. In organizations where Kaizen is being implemented, transparency between different levels of the organization is very crucial. Effective communication should take place between all the levels of employees.
While employees are brainstorming for ideas, it is important that management also gets involved in these sessions. The manager also should ensure that their suggestions and ideas are being acted upon immediately and not delayed by a week or month. Employees should be kept informed about other activities going on in the team and how their ideas are being worked upon.
People should not feel that their ideas have all gone waste and are not being used. A positive mind set is what will help in keeping Kaizen alive in the organization. Thus, constant application of Kaizen creates huge long term value by developing the culture that is really needed for true continuous improvement.
Incorporating Kaizen into the Home
When it comes to the home and personal improvement, it is wise to remember that you should not strive for big and quick improvement but start with small improvement that is constant.
Keep in mind that kaizen is all about making small, incremental changes over a certain period of time. When these small changes are then compounded they lead to results and to a more efficient and healthier way of life. When Implementing kaizen into your life you should start by breaking down your dreams into smaller parts and decide each month what you want to achieve, then what to strive for each week and finally even every day.
It is important that you focus on tasks which are easy to complete and which will give you the greatest rewards first. If one of your goals is to save on groceries and have healthier meals then start with clipping coupons, reading labels and finding out all you can about the healthiest meals you can make. Start by cleaning out your kitchen from unhealthy food, drinks and snacks.
Slowly but surely you will see the changes you have been striving for and soon you will see continual improvement in your lifestyle and of course, most important your health. Remember to make small and manageable changes every day instead of making one giant leap which is sure to fail. Make small tasks which are manageable and doable a top priority.
Start by aiming for long-term changes that have the ability to compound over the years. Keep in mind that the change has to happen with you. So be determined, never give up and you are sure to succeed in time. Don’t be impatient because all things and all changes for the better take time.
For them to succeed they must be continuous and they must let you see that improvements as time goes by. When you see yourself and your family leading a happier and healthier way of life then you know that your initial thought for eating healthier is working and slowly but surely you are achieving your goal for a much better way of life. Then so that you can also improve on other things try something new, test it out, and see if it works and if it can also become a continuous improvement.
You are sure to have some failure and hits and misses but stick to those things that really work. In this way you will again have success and you will see gradual and continual improvement over a period of time. Keep in mind that with each decision you make, determine how your life will be different and better.
If it can be different but not better try something else. Once your decisions become intentional, thought out then you will have a much clearer and better understanding or where you are going with the new changes and you are sure to become a success at what you have chosen to attempt.